Firing Donald Rumsfeld

Richard Fernandez, noting the wave of retired generals calling for Donald Rumsfeld’s resignation for various failings in Iraq, points out that “Secretary Rumsfeld is only the ‘near enemy’. If the criticisms are taken seriously they must be an indictment against the ‘far enemy’ as well — President Bush.” That strikes me as exactly right.

To the extent going to war in Iraq was a bad idea, period, then Bush is responsible–regardless of how much Rummy, Cheney, Rove, or whoever was pushing him in that direction. He hired them. He listened to them. He decided. Of course, Congress backed the move enthusiastically and Bush was re-elected long after the WMD rationale for the war disintegrated and the insurgency got out of control.

If the argument is simply that the war was executed badly–not enough boots on the ground, inadequate planning for counterinsurgency, poor infowar strategy, etc.–then the generals bear as much, if not more, responsibility than Rumsfeld. Post-Goldwater Nichols (1986), the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs has been the statutory military advisor to the president. The generals therefore have direct and unfettered access to the president and have a voice independent of the SECDEF before both the president and Congress. (Whether that’s a good idea is an open question. See Colonel Charles Dunlap for a negative view.)

Fernandez points out that “One criticism independent of policy holds that Secretary Rumsfeld is a poor manager; a busybody; a man who will not listen and won’t let subordinates get on with their jobs.” He is ambivalent about this, saying history will judge. Certainly, he has managed to ruffle the feathers of many senior leaders and even many field grade officers I have talked to dislike the man. That, however, is either a sign that Rumsfeld is a smug jerk or that he’s standing firm against bureaucratic intransigience. I suspect it’s a bit of both.

FILED UNDER: Blogosphere, Congress, Iraq War, Military Affairs, , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Herb says:

    If these so called “patriotic Generals” had the best interest of their country, troops and the desire to defeat the terrorist placed so high,and did not say anything in public about their mis givings about Rumsfeld, they obviously had their own self interest uppermost in mind. I must assume now that these Generals placed their “retirement benefits” and military position over and above their duty to inform their true feelings to their boss.

    It is sad indeed that we have such selfish, self centered and politically inclined men leading our troops in battle.

  2. legion says:

    Disturbingly, I have to agree with what Herb said. If these generals are so convinced the fault is Rumsfeld (and up), rather than their own shortcomings, I would have much more respect for them if even one had had the balls to resign at the time, rather than waiting until safely after the fact.

    While getting rid of Rumsfeld now might help keep us out of _another_ unnecessary war, it would’ve been nice if these people had used their influence to keep us from getting into the quagmire we’re in now…

  3. This post reminded me of the “trial scene” from Animal house.

    “To the extent going to war in Iraq was a bad idea, period, then Bush is responsibleâ??regardless of how much Rummy, Cheney, Rove, or whoever was pushing him in that direction. He hired them. He listened to them. He decided. Of course, Congress backed the move enthusiastically and Bush was re-elected long after the WMD rationale for the war disintegrated and the insurgency got out of control.”

    And if we are going to indict the president as the ‘far enemy’, then shouldn’t we indict the ‘far, far enemy’, the voters that elected him and returned him to office? Idn’t the president just the servant to the people and thus the responsibility should lie not with the servant, but with the master, the voters themself.

    And if the voters are responsible, shouldn’t we acknowledge that the real culprit is those who gave that power into the hands of the people? The ‘far, far, far enemy. The framers of the constitution who set up the means by which the voters elected the president.

    And if we indict the framers of the US constitution, shouldn’t we recognize that they were only enabled to frame the constitution because they were standing on the shoulders of all humanity that had preceeded them. That really it is all humanity in the rise from barbarianism to civilization that gave the framers of the constitution the ability to create the system that allowed the voters to elect the president who appointed Rumsfeld who pissed off the generals for breaking their rice bowls. So the real ‘far, far, far, far enemy’ is all of humanity.

    But if we are going to recognize the role of humanity in this, shouldn’t we also acknowledge that the real ‘far, far, far, far, far enemy’ is the whole evolutionary change that started with the primordial sludge and evolved its way to become the rude and crude humans that became the seed for humanity? Why should we ignore the role of all these living organisms in creating the mess in Iraq? Why should they get off scott free?

    And if we are going to point our finger at the role of life in this, shouldn’t we open our eyes and see that the real culprit, the real ‘far, far, far, far, far, far enemy’ is really the creator of all life? Isn’t God (or for you non-believers who don’t have a cogent explination for how life was created, cosmic chance) the real root of all these problems?

    Well I won’t have it! Oh sure, this may be the first time in human experience that everything didn’t go as planned. This may be the first time that underlings disliked their boss. This may be the first time that people appointed to positions of power by one party use that appointment to cast aspersions on people of the other party. All of those things may show us that this is so utterly unique that we should all sit down and contemplate its significance forgoing all food, water and itching until we have achieved cosmic oneness. But not me. I wouln’t stand idly by while you through you little simian poo at God, life and all of humanity. Not to mention the mother’s of all that humanity, founding fathers and voters. I mean, when you strike at them, aren’t you really striking at their mothers for bearing them, raising them, wiping their snotty little noses and cleaning their smelly little diapers?

    I’m leaving this comment right now. And I am putting this Blog, this blog’s creator, the commentors on this blog, the readers of this blog, and especially all the beady eyed little geeks who created the internet that enabled this blog on double secret probation.

  4. ken says:

    What is most interesting is that this shows the widespread disgust throughout the professional military for Bush and Cheney being taken out on Rumsfeild. It is like they are publicly spitting in Bushs face.

    I am sure that speaking out in such a fashion was very difficult for them to do. But now that they have shown the way I wonder how many others will come forward as well with their call for a change in the civilian leadership of the military?

    Being amongst the leaders I would guess their example will encourage see many others throughout the ranks to begin speaking the truth.

    It should make for an interesting time. A revolt amongst the military against its incompetent civilian leadership. Who would have thought this could ever happen?

  5. legion says:

    Well, it’s not so much a revolt just yet… These generals, when dealing with civilian bosses who were incompetent and/or refusing to follow sound military advice (from the generals’ POV, at least), had exactly two options: resign or shut up & follow orders. Every single one of the generals speaking out now followed orders.

    Take that as you will…

  6. One of the interesting things I noted was one of the generals complaining was the one in charge of Iraqi army training in 2003. If you remember, that was the Iraqi army which had troops mutiny on the way to the fighting.

    He was replaced and from what I see, the Iraqi army training has done a much better job. Your results may vary, but just comparing the two you have to admit that it has improved.

    So if a general in charge of an aspect of the war messed up very badly, his replacement showed it wasn’t the troops but the leadership, and now he is saying the problems weren’t with him but the civilian boss (where the replacement with the same boss and the same raw material is succeeding). The fact that the MSM isn’t asking him some pointed questions makes me suspicious of the whole thing.

    And you are all still on double secret probation, so I’m watching you.

  7. legion says:

    john, don’t make me sneak a horse into your office…

  8. Legion,
    You haven’t got the gun loaded with blanks to do that. Plus I work from home, so it would be pretty hard to sneak into my office.

  9. Hmmm, not one general stood up to Rumsfeld?

    How quickly you forget that General Shinseki DID speak out about what he believed should be done in Iraq, and he got canned, so please skip the “revisionist history” that no generals complained at the time. Also, would we have heard about the complaints of the general while they were actually serving? Wouldn’t they have rightly kept their complaints internally? Or are you blaming them for that also?

    But the biggest question?

    What ever happened to “support the troops”?

    Sounds like a Political appointee has got your backing over any number of actual “troops”. Yeah, that’s the conservative way, “support our political appointees” !!!

  10. Jim Durbin says:

    Shinseki was scheduled to leave before he made his comments. He left on time, as planned, no matter what you heard from John Kerry in the debate.

  11. Big time,

    So one of the generals is the one who messed up big time (like how I worked that in for you) on training the Iraqi army. Another was the centcom commander under Clinton (yeah, Saddam was really kept in the box there). The more I look, the more these look like the kind of troops who would prosper when Clinton was in the white house.

    I agree with you that while on active duty, they shouldn’t go around their chain of command to the press. But they all had the option to resign. That would make a hell of a statement.

    I’ll trust the re-enlistment rates of troops that have been in Iraq as a barometer of how things are going long before I trust generals who showed they weren’t competent (again see the Iraqi army training in 2003) and were appointed by Clinton.

  12. legion says:

    Jim’s right – Shinseki was going to retire on-schedule from Chief of Staff of the Army. Rumsfeld’s big poke-in-the-eye retaliation for his public disagreement with Rummy’s estimations on Iraq troop requirements was to break with tradition and announce Shinseki’s replacement months in advance, which was both a major insult and turned him into a lame duck for the last 6 months of his tenure.

    The Secretary of the Army was pretty much kicked to the curb, but a big reason for that was his (I don’t recall if Shinseki was connected to this or not) going behind Rummy’s back and lobbying Congress directly to save the Army’s new self-propelled artillery project, after Rummy decided to kill it. I’m hardly a fan of Rummy, but that seemed like a pretty big breach of protocol there…

  13. legion says:

    Well it’s obvious there’s only one thing left to do.

    TOGA!! TOGA!! TOGA!!

  14. DJ says:

    Okay, six retired generals out of how many generals and admirals who’ve retired in the last five or six years think Rumsfeld has done a lousy job and should quit. Consider that most generals and admirals serve 30 years or more, these guys have served under a long string of defense secretaries, of whom Rumsfeld is hardly the worst. Me thinks they were against the war and/or the way it’s been fought all along, and disagreed with the civilian leadership because “We (professionally trained officers” KNOW BETTER.” I’d also love to know if these guys are ring-knockers from West Point or Annapolis as well — many of them are not fond of people disagreeing with them (after all, they are academy graduates and are PROFESSIONAL military men)!

  15. Dave says:

    McClellan had similar complaints about his civilian leadership. In the end, most analysts agree that it was actually McClellan that was the problem.